May 08

JJ BARRIE – “No Charge”

FT + Popular/381 comments • 12,955 views

#389, 2nd June 1976

I was aware of this song long before I heard it – as a young boy it was quoted at me by my Dad should I ever object to tidying my room. Since my room was rarely tidy, I became very familiar with the central notion of “No Charge”. Like my Dad, I can find immense amusement and pleasure in this style of song – talking country with a sentimental edge – but this is far from a great example.

You might think, at first, that the style stands or falls on the strength of its concepts: not so. “No Charge” has a fine concept – mawkishness and moralising are assets here! – but where JJ Barrie falls down is on development and details. Once our young entrepreneur has presented his list, and been slapped down by Mom, the track has nowhere to go, and explores that nowhere thoroughly for two minutes. Contrast it with something like “Teddy Bear” by Red Sovine, where tears are ruthlessly jerked right up to the final words. Barrie, on the other hand, adds no new details and just repeats himself. This is partly because “No Charge” is a cover version, and you can hear what I assume is the original melody being hollered in the background: it sounds rather as if it’s trying to escape.



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  1. 1
    rosie on 2 May 2008 #

    Blimey – 1976 really is a pretty grim years so far (Abba notwithstanding, of course). This is not just bad, it’s the most utterly pointless bad in a very long time. I’m sorry, but give me Brotherhood of Man over this any time. I don’t know what JJ Barrie was playing at – a barely reconstituted, already mawkish, ditty rushed through as if he’s reluctantly reading it from a piece of paper in front of a school assembly.

    I note the lack of a mark on this and wonder if this is what is meant by no zero – blank instead!

  2. 2
    Tom on 2 May 2008 #

    Hmmm that’s odd – none of the fields posted, even though they uploaded OK. I will edit!

  3. 3
    Tom on 2 May 2008 #


  4. 4
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    According to Guinness, JJ Barrie is Canadian (real name: Barrie Authors) although I always assumed him to a Brit pretending to be an American given his subsequent involvement in a football-related record which I think had something to do with Brian Clough. Other than that he is a mysterious fellow indeed, the enigma aided by the fact that “No Charge” is another number one hard to track down on CD (it is available for those that should want it, but only via the auspices of our Dutch friends over at Disky and BR Music). Also, I believe, the only number one single for the equally baffling Power Exchange label.

    In America this is a long-standing C&W standard which has been recorded by pretty well all country singers you’ve ever heard of (and a good deal more that you haven’t) but this was the hit version here and its scrawny premise* really is stretched to the point of agony, despite the brave attempts by the late Vicki Brown (wife of Joe, mother of Sam, backing vocalist extraordinaire) to inject some life into the proceedings. I’m afraid its number one status may have been partially our (i.e. Scotland’s) fault.

    As an act of repentance, Billy Connolly was quick off the mark with his parody (“No Chance”), and another mysterious narrator, one CC Sandford, recorded a Northern version entitled “No Charge (Chuck).”

    This really is a dismal year, and the worst is yet to come…

    *the actual sentiment “the cost of real love is no charge” is very true indeed but the mom/kid set-up is static as well as soapy.

  5. 5
    rosie on 2 May 2008 #

    One wonders if Vicki Brown ever told her son to belt up…

  6. 6
    Erithian on 2 May 2008 #

    Yes Rosie, and there are a couple more cringes coming up. Mawkish, corny and exploitative, this is in my top five worst Number 1s of all time. Even Billy Connolly’s parody version of it was nowhere near as much fun as “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.”

    And yet on the only time I’ve heard it since becoming a dad, there was a pesky little lump in my throat. Bloody kids!

    In fact, this record was just – WET. We should have made the most of it, because not much else was going to be wet for the next month or two…

  7. 7
    Matthew H on 2 May 2008 #

    I had never heard this before in my life, just knew it as a bare statistic in the GRRR books. I’ve now “enjoyed” a youtube clip of someone playing their 45 – watching the disc spin was the best part.

    I like the pace, but the backing vocal is a tantalising glimpse of what could have been.

  8. 8
    Tom on 2 May 2008 #

    Oh man, this is very bad but nowhere NEAR my five worst. I think it depends on your age though: I didn’t have to live through “No Charge” (except as a moral lesson). But also this gets 2 rather than 1 because I love the ruthless C&W sentimentality it reminds me of. (srsly listen to “Teddy Bear”!!)

  9. 9
    intothefireuk on 2 May 2008 #

    Around about this time I was buying singles like Be Bop Deluxe’s ‘Ships In The Night’ & 10cc’s ‘Mandy’. JJ Barrie was somewhat off my listening map and listening to this now it still is. I’m pretty sure there was a send up of this made but really there was no need. You just know that if your Mum had indeed said that to you, you would have answered it with something like ‘well you had me, it’s your job – now where’s my money ?’ or possibly now ‘yeah, yeah, whatever’.How about this JJ – no mark.

  10. 10
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    (N.B.: the scintillating Barrie/Clough collaboration was entitled “You Can’t Win ‘Em All”)

    Bill Amesbury, who produced this record, later became Barbra Amesbury.

  11. 11
    Tom on 2 May 2008 #

    I would also like to point out that my Mum had far more sense than to ever quote this, it was always Dad on her behalf. She just said “No”.

  12. 12
    Erithian on 2 May 2008 #

    Punctum: re CC Sandford – if I’m not mistaken, that’s Christopher Sandford, former Radio Caroline DJ. A site called The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame reveals that he played a character called Walter Potts in Coronation Street, who was a milkman who became a pop singer – and his hit song in the storyline, “Not Too Little Not Too Much”, became a real-life Top 20 hit for Sandford (20-odd years before EastEnders spawned hits in similar fashion). He released a few more singles, and the drummer in his backing band The Coronets was none other than Mitch Mitchell, later of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And Sandford was also one of the culprits behind Yin and Yan’s spoof of another mid-70s number 1, “If”.

  13. 13
    Matthew H on 2 May 2008 #

    I’m not convinced by his accent either.

    I think it’s Mike Yarwood.

  14. 14
    rosie on 2 May 2008 #

    Erithian, I’ve had a peek ahead and although some of what’s to come doesn’t exactly stir the loins, it’s hardly as awful as this!

  15. 15
    Erithian on 2 May 2008 #

    I’m rather sceptical of the phrase “why punk had to happen”, but consider this – it was on 4 June 1976, a few days after “No Charge” reached number 1, that the Sex Pistols played a certain gig in the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Or maybe it was in the Tardis, because thousands say they were there whereas the venue only holds 150. But among the punters were Tony Wilson, Morrissey, Pete Shelley, Mark E Smith, Paul Morley, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. Ian Curtis and Mick Hucknall missed this gig but saw the Pistols in the same venue a month later.

  16. 17
    Tom on 2 May 2008 #

    The one thing punk demonstrably failed to do was keep novelty or sentimental records from the top of the charts!

  17. 18
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    Tom you plonker you mixed up Alan Dale with Jim Dale! You can hear the latter’s commentary on the special limited edition DVD shortly to be released: “It was not without some little irony that Mr Curtis realised that Mr Morrissey’s gladioli were about to be put into operation as weapons of tickling destruction to resuscitate the father of the man who had killed the son of his father cont. p. 1234…”

  18. 19
    Pete Baran on 2 May 2008 #

    You can’t argue though that Pushing Daisies aside, Alan Dale is in everything these days. Not bad for a lame Robin hood sidekick.

  19. 20
    rosie on 2 May 2008 #

    I, too, am sceptical about “why punk had to happen”, and I don’t really see how making random loud noises with musical instruments one doesn’t know how to play (presumably music lessons are so terribly bourgeois) while screeching obscenities at toothache-inducing intensity stops people who like novelty and sentimental records from buying them. As Jean Brodie put it so succinctly, those who like that kind of thing find that the kind of thing they like.

  20. 21
    mike on 2 May 2008 #

    Hmm, I could tell you a Poignant Personal Anecdote relating to Red Sovine’s “Teddy Bear” (whose lyrics I have just re-acquainted myself with), but there is such a thing as over-sharing.

    Don’t know about the Worst Number One Ever, but “No Charge” certainly has to be my Worst Number One of the 1970s thus far. (Telly Savalas being the closest contender, but I can at least muster a giggle over that one.) There was an awful lot of novelty faddism about during 1976 – Pet Rocks, CB radio, the Glenn Miller revival, even George Zamfir’s pan pipes – and this was just one more example.

    (Whatever happened to novelty faddism, anyway?)

  21. 22
    Tom on 2 May 2008 #

    It recurs occasionally Mike!

  22. 23
    Erithian on 2 May 2008 #

    ISTR James Hamilton covered the Glenn Miller revival in some depth in Record Mirror – did he speak about it afterwards Mike?

  23. 24
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    I, too, am sceptical about “why punk had to happen”, and I don’t really see how making random loud noises with musical instruments one doesn’t know how to play (presumably music lessons are so terribly bourgeois) while screeching obscenities at toothache-inducing intensity stops people who like novelty and sentimental records from buying them.

    Derek Jewell lives!

  24. 25
    Tom on 2 May 2008 #

    Full credit to Rosie for holding the anti-punk line in what are likely to become increasingly sharky waters! I think there will be better threads to have this debate in though.

  25. 26
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    in ref “why punk had to happen” — as a punk absolutist at the time (17 in 77) i am VERY suspicious of the endless retro-fitting of this argument, which has been adapted and re-adapted and re-re-adapted to justify grown-up (non-chart) tastes in the present (1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005… ), and which actually locks pretty closely into Guilty Pleasures as an ideologically conformist pressure today

    (this is a “where were you on the barricades when it mattered?” argument and shd be taken with a punch of salt probbly)

    i don’t even slightly consider that punk — as truly an properly understood then and now (ie by ME) (if no one else heh) — is particularly anti-novelty or anti-sentimentality at all (or indeed anti-ABBA): it was anti claims to intelligence that weren’t that intelligent (or that confused being smart with being dull), and it was anti toleration of pro forma boredom (which would be a frustration with the charts as a whole — as a tapestry of all its contents — rather than any given feeble song)

    i think at school we quite enjoyed this song as it was very easy to parody and use as a vehicle for jokes and so on

  26. 27
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    also i was just listening back to the red brain ep of slugs of time and haha bad brains are totally and awesomely in command of their instruments and musicianship! (bit of a special case possibly as i think they were jazzfunkers b4 they became punkers)

    (weirdly enough slug-guest dave q and i were discussing derek jewell before the show began: a piece DJ’d written comparing three successive pink floyd shows on a pseudo-musicological level)

  27. 28
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    My idea of punk in actual 1976 as I knew and lived it: Mike Osborne and Stan Tracey Saturday afternoon duo set at Bracknell Jazz Festival where they sent all the tradheads scattering with half an hour of WAKE UP free noise clarion calls which WITHOUT PUSHING A BUTTON IN THEIR HEADS very naturally ended up with their playing “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” as quietly and tenderly as anyone could ever have played it.

  28. 29
    mike on 2 May 2008 #

    ISTR James Hamilton covered the Glenn Miller revival in some depth in Record Mirror – did he speak about it afterwards Mike?

    No, we never talked about it (although JH also played a lot of veh veh posh parties for the County Set in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and was quite used to dropping a bit of big band tuneage).

    It was the Melody Maker who went really overboard with excitement over the Glenn Miller thing, though: a certain residual faction had been waiting for The Big Band Revival ever since Elvis, and this was their shining moment of opportunity. I seem to recall a centre spread’s worth of recommended listening from the jazzer rear-guard…

  29. 30
    Erithian on 2 May 2008 #

    Tom, I only raised the subject of punk on this thread because of the coincidence of “No Charge” being number one at the time of the seminal Pistols gig, but as an illustration of the contrast between what was going on “out there” and what was going on at the top of the charts, this is as good a place as any to start! But maybe we should restrict ourselves to the first wave of the new wave just yet. (I understand you’re not going to wait until autumn ’78 to feature punk on these pages, if Spoiler Bunny will let me ask?)

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